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‘Students describe my module as an emotional rollercoaster’

Thanks to Ian Cook’s ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ MOOC, thousands of students have researched where their clothes come from. How does this geographer from the University of Exeter manage to inspire such enthusiasm in his students? He and his student Zahra Ali will explain all during the Education Festival on 9 May.

Ian Cook

What are your modules about?

‘When the Fashion Revolution movement emerged in the wake of the deadly Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, its central question was: Who made my clothes? I drew on the pedagogy and ethos of my material culture module to design and run a three-week ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ Fashion Revolutions MOOC in 2017 and 2018 that was taken by over 16,000 people worldwide. I also set up the followthethings.com website. The idea is that students research where their things were made. I’m interested in material culture and the ways that cultural activists – be they filmmakers, artists, activists, game designers, journalists or others – research and try to engage audiences in the lives of people who make their clothes, electronics, food and other commodities.’

How do you ensure that students take an active role in the learning process?

‘What I “teach” is very responsive to what the students get interested in and what’s happening right now. It’s closely tied to my research, and what students do can be published on my website followthethings.com. What I assess is students’ individual reflections on what they have learned through the group work process. So, if they have not been motivated to take part in that, they have less to write about in their assessed work.

What do students think of your approach?

Students often describe it as an emotional rollercoaster. It’s very far from a “chalk and talk” module. The module is run from a WordPress blog, so it’s much more inviting, visually appealing and dynamic than they are used to. When you pull the pedagogical rug from under students’ feet, there’s a lot for them to get used to. So you have to offer tons of support; sometimes there are long queues outside my office. But helping them to think through ideas and problems also helps me to better understand the challenges of my field.’ 

To find out more about Cook’s innovative approach, register as student or lecturer for the Leiden Education Festival on 9 May!

Banner photo: clothing factory in Bangladesh
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